Walking into the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Saturday morning, I expected to see the usual: a lot of Tapout T-shirts worn by testosterone-filled, middle-aged males. And while there was plenty of that, I was surprised to see how diverse the UFC demographic has become. Along with the stereotypical “rabid MMA fan,” the Fan Expo attracted a large contingent of women, children and older adults. They came for the Q&A’s, video games, youth grappling tournaments, autograph signings and fighter training sessions, among other activities.
One of the highlights on opening day of the two-day Expo was the Q&A with UFC boss Dana White, who answered as many employment queries—“Will you take my business card?” “Can I have a job?”—as he did fight-related questions. By the time I got to the mic, he seemed thrilled that I actually wanted to talk shop, answering my fight questions as enthusiastically as a little kid who just received the best birthday present of his life. If White’s Q&A proved anything, it’s that the man who turned a niche sport into a global empire remains beloved by UFC fans.
In addition to the Q&As, fans perused dozens of kiosks carrying top-of-the-line apparel, while autograph stations featuring some of the UFC’s biggest stars drew scrums that looked like mosh pits. The line for Georges St-Pierre (my favorite fighter) was practically a mile long alone. While I didn’t get to meet Georges, just seeing him up close was a thrill. And GSP was just one of many fighters holding court: By midday, Cain Velasquez, Anthony Pettis, Diego Sanchez, Rashad Evans and T.J. Dillishaw all had huge crowds—with more to come Sunday.
MMA mania is at an all-time high right now, and if the energy and excitement displayed during the first day of the Fan Expo is any indication, that mania isn’t dying out anytime soon.